Story by Capt. Andrew Layton
Michigan National Guard
GRAYLING, Mich. - On July 28, 2020, the Michigan National Guard held a public community day at the newly renamed National All-Domain Warfighting Center in Northern Michigan, offering a look inside Northern Strike 20, the National Guard’s premier joint fires readiness event.
Approximately 400 Michiganders attended the event, hosted by Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II.
“Today’s Northern Strike exercise serves as a national model for the type of training that exists right here in our state,” said Gilchrist. “In the face of the unique circumstances presented by the coronavirus pandemic, the Michigan National Guard continues to showcase how they can overcome any obstacle to achieve success in their mission.”
Gilchrist is referring to the massive training areas of Camp Grayling Maneuver Training Center and Alpena Combat Readiness Training Center, which combine to equal nearly 148,000 acres of maneuver space and the largest military airspace complex east of the Mississippi River. Each year since 2012, these facilities of the Michigan National Guard have hosted exercise Northern Strike, the largest annual joint fires readiness event of its kind. This year, those facilities are being christened the National All-Domain Warfighting Center, a fitting acknowledgement of the unique capabilities and integral support these locations in Northern Michigan contribute to the U.S. National Defense Strategy.
To host Northern Strike this year, the Michigan National Guard persisted through the challenges of COVID-19 to partner with public health officials, forming a comprehensive plan that allows the exercise to continue during the pandemic, while safeguarding participants and local communities. Countermeasures include social distancing, required use of masks when social distancing is not possible, and frequent sanitization.
Northern Strike is designed to challenge its training audience with multiple forms of convergence that advance interoperability across multicomponent, multinational and interagency partners. The exercise also presents an opportunity for Army futures and defense industry partners to test emerging technologies for the future warfight.
Attendees of the community day event witnessed a live joint fires training scenario, integrating Air National Guard, Army National Guard, U.S. Marine Reserve, and Latvian forces to demonstrate the type of synchronization that has become Northern Strike’s hallmark. A real-time narration of the events over public address was punctuated by blasts from M777 155 mm artillery, screaming engines of F-16 Fighting Falcons, and the distinctive growl of the A-10 Thunderbolt’s 30 mm gatling gun.
“Across all of our facilities, we are looking for opportunities to grow and advance our training environment here and we’re competing nationally for resources with every other state and territory for those federal resources,” said Maj. Gen. Paul Rogers, Adjutant General and Director of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “What we’re doing is attracting those resources through exercises like this and showing the value, from a national perspective, and then investing that in a meaningful way to continue to offer a great training environment for the future.”
Northern Strike is critically important to the local economy in Grayling and Alpena. It brings an average of 6,000-7,000 men and women from 20 states and numerous coalition countries to Northern Michigan annually. In total, this delivers an average of $30 million to Michigan’s economy annually in military pay, travel, and local spending in Northern Michigan.
Rogers spoke of a symbiotic relationship between military training activities like Northern Strike and the communities in Northern Michigan close to it.
“Northern Strike is unique because Michigan is unique,” he said. “Our success is based on the success, vibrance and energy of our communities.”